Saturday, July 6, 2013

July 6: church and state

I write this dated for Saturday, but I'm writing it late on a sweltering, Friday late afternoon. I shall be posting it on Saturday morning, along with another post for Sunday because I shall be, in that time, soaking up some cold (I hope) salt water.

In the July 5 TandT, Michael B. Sullivan wrote an outstanding opinion column on the separation of church and state. I think he was quite right. (I also think there should be a similar separation of business and state, because when they are not separate, what you have is fascism - and fascism is what we now have in New Brunswick. And I am not using fascist as as sort of name-calling. I am using it in the correct sense of the word.)  However, Mr. Sullivan might disagree with me on that - so let's just speak of church and state.)

One thing I particularly like about his column is that he was careful to state a precise meaning for separation of state and church. It does not mean they have nothing to do with each other. It doesn't mean that at all. It simply means that the state should not be funding the church. To that, I would add that the church should have no special powers in dealing with government. Its members have the right to influence government. Of course, they do - as individual voters. No more. But certainly no less.

I shall write this especially for Christians because most New Brunswickers are (nominally) Christians. I would say the same for any major religion I can think of because all religions that I know of have more in common than in opposition to each other. (The hatred they often show for each other really has nothing to do with religion.  It's stirred up by people who have something to gain by creating hatreds.)

I expect that on this Saturday's Faith Page we shall see lists of churches doing the Lord's work. Apparently, the Lord is very keen on lawn sales, pancake breakfasts and lobster suppers. And the sermonette will be on how we Christians are all going to heaven while everybody else goes to  hell. (In extreme cases, it may be only Mormons or Baptists who go to heaven. Anglicans, in particular, are doomed. If there is any serious discussion, it is likely to be on some crucial point like whether the streets of the New Jerusalem will be paved with gold.)

Even casual reading of the scriptures of almost any faith should reveal that is not what religious teachings are all about. Particularly - in relating to our daily lives they are most concerned about outlining a moral code. And it's always a moral code essential to the survival of our societies.

No church has the right to tell any government what to do - (nor, for that matter, does any billionaire.) What a church does have is a right and a responsibility to encourage its followers to employ the moral code of their faith in making political judgements.

Some years ago, I asked the clergyman of my church if we could form a current events group. (This was before I learned that New Brunswickers are terrified of discussing current events out loud.) He looked doubtful, then asked if I could put it in a Christian context.

My first reaction was anger. This was the church interfering with free thought. Then, the most important thing I have ever learned dawned on me. I had always, even in my most atheist years, made my political judgements in the context of the moral codes I had learned in Sunday school.

If there is no morality, then you have nothing to base any judgement on except greed and self-interest - and we won't last long if we continue that. Indeed, my objection to government, the newspapers, and big business in this province is that they operate on no moral code whatever. Certainly, I cannot find any moral code, not even when I accept the invitation to sit in the reverent hush of the Irving Chapel - and contemplate.

I DO NOT suggest the clergy should preach on politics. I should be very much opposed to any such thing. But they should be encouraging their congregations to think about - and discuss -  the politics and business around them in the context of the moral codes of  their faith.

If the streets of Moncton were filled with prostitutes, the clergy would certainly encourage discussion of it in the context of faith. Why don't they do the same with presstitutes?

I am not suggesting that the church should tell people what to think. Not at all. The church is quite unqualified to do that. But it is qualified to encourage its members to place worldly decision into a religous context. Indeed, it's a responsibility for it to do so.

There are moral dimensions to the shale gas debate, to the ethical standards of big business, to taxation, to the destruction of social programmes, to the use of our military to fight oil wars. to the treatment of native peoples by our governments, even to the priority and cost devoted to a hockey rink.

Churches should not spend their time being exclusively boring and respectable. Jesus was neither of those.

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